Category Archives: Rants

About that Facebook Mass Experiment…

Didn’t hear about it? “Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment” should give you a good start. 

If you know anything about the food industry, particularly processed and packaged foods, you know there are allowances for the presence of non-ingredients, such as dust, fecal matter (usually of vermin or insects), roach parts, rat hairs, and other unseemly bits. The allowances are very small and given as a matter of practicality: shutting down an entire farm and factory for point-oh-some-odd per cent cockroach parts is simply not cost effective, as the risk of possible damage from said parts is low.

Let’s say there’s a ubiquitous chocolate candy company that decides to test the limits of these allowances to see how it will affect their customers. Starting with a freshly cleaned facility, they produce a batch of their product drawn from a pristine crop, in which nothing except the listed ingredients is present, or at least as near to it as is possible. They make another batch of their product from an infested crop and deliberately include the maximum amount of roach parts and rat hairs that will pass inspection. They send each batch out into the world and record the results: who and how many customers were absent for work in the following days, went to the hospital, developed allergies, etc.

What they did was technically legal.

What Facebook did was technically legal. Passing through the legal loopholes of “Terms of Service” and the kind of manipulation that advertisers already practice, Facebook was within its legal rights as a company to decide what and how much of its product consumers could use. The event in short was this: Facebook manipulated the feeds of almost 700,000 users to restrict the emotional content exposure toward them to see if they later reflected the same emotions in their own posts. Essentially, they performed a psychological experiment without IRB approval, i.e., the ethics overview committees that ensure the safety and protection of those participants in the first place, and without informed consent, i.e., the “this is what we’re doing, this is what it could do to you, you have the right to decline, we’ll only lie about it if we feel it is absolutely necessary to the integrity of the study, and we’ll tell you if we’ve done so the minute the trials are over” speech. (See the article at the top.)

The ethics of such secret, unsupervised experimentation have already been called into question, so much that many are calling for government response. We already know that Facebook and similar social media use is linked to depression, a mental illness with real economic impact so that even the average taxpayer ought to feel offense. And because Facebook use alone is connected to depression, direct manipulation to increase such depression has horrible implications for vulnerable users who may not otherwise be aware of the medium’s effects. Despite being a plausible and disturbingly common scenario, we will likely never know the extent of the company’s damage to the population, as they have not released the raw data nor have they contacted individual users to inform them of their participation or which manipulation they received. This is unacceptable.


 

I haven’t been happy with Facebook in a very long time. I find the medium tedious to manage, and it reduces human interaction to popularity contests tallied in “likes” and “shares.” Like many unhappy users, I stayed because it was my most immediate and easiest network to long-distant connections. However, my disgust for the medium has reached the tipping point with this latest news. I will not be joining the very temporary 99 Days of Freedom campaign. Two weeks ago, I quit. I’m relieved to say I don’t miss it.

If you feel inclined to leave as well, the link to delete an account is here, and instructions are here.

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CHURCH COMMANDS FISH TO STARVE

Living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, we have a number of churches in the area, and, concequently a number of very, very bad church signs. A particular apostolic church down the street is notorious for their attempts to be clever or coy. They usually fail, inviting more laughter than visitors. Their latest is an excellent example:

EVEN A FISH STAYS
OUT OF TROUBLE
IF IT KEEPS ITS
MOUTH SHUT

There are a number of problems immediately visible in this message, from the basic biology of craniata to the suppression of critical thought. Let’s review!

  • A fish requires the movements of its mouth to breathe. “Fish exchange gases by pulling oxygen-rich water through their mouths and pumping it over their gills.” Perhaps the sender of the message would have us believe it is better to die of asphyxiation than to risk getting into trouble.
     
  • A fish requires an open mouth to eat. That’s kind of what the mouth is for in nearly all creatures that have one. Once again, the message sender values preservation from “trouble” above life.
     
  • “Trouble” is not defined. If it were not for the above two necessary functions of an open mouth, I would have assumed it was something to avoid. However, because I value life, I assume trouble is something we should get into, according to this message.
     
    Granted, I’m being snarky and sarcastic in my response here. I’m sure what the sender is (poorly) attempting to say is that talking gets one into trouble, and that trouble is something bad. It is exceptionally vague, however, what kind of talk that is supposed to be. It could mean back talking, arguing, speaking one’s mind, or raising questions.
     
  • Fish don’t talk. Therefore, they cannot talk back, speak their minds, or raise a question. When a fish opens its mouth, it’s not looking for trouble or conversing. (Although, the argument could be made that “kissing” fish are arguing—they are fighting, often for territorial rights. In this case, however, it’s the fish that backs off that experiences more stress and is more likely to suffer and even have a shortened life compared to the bully.)
     
  • In the analogy, the evil arises from the fisherman taking advantage of the natural need (for food) of the fish. This makes the fisherman more manipulative and vile than the fish gullible. Did not Jesus command his apostles to be “fishers of men”? Hrm…
     

What other issues do you see in the inferences of this sign?

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Facebook, Fruit, and Breast Cancer

Critical Thinking Bear

by Critical Thinking Bear

I had intended to have several blog posts ready before I officially “opened” and advertised this blog to the public. I haven’t even written an About page yet or even decided if I was going to use my own name (ask skeptics often—rightly—call for) or a handle (because I’m a very private person, particularly on the internet). However, I was recently “invited” to an online event on Facebook, and it so struck me, I felt obliged to share it:

READ READ READ THEN YOU WILL SEE IT’S NOT THAT KIND OF INVITE TO GO SOME WHERE IT’S… A INVITE TO SHOW YOU CARE!!!!

okay ladies i thought this would be eaiser to pass along rather than sending it in message form. so follow along and lets see how big we can get this…. Invite all of ur girlfriends and lets see how far we get this to go………….
……
We are playing a game. Someone proposed that we GIRLS do something special on Facebook to help with Breast Cancer Awareness. Its easy, and Id like you to join us to help it spread. Last year it was… …about writing the color of the bra that your were wearing in your Fb status and it left men wondering for days why the girls had random colors as their status. This year it has to do with your relationship status. You will where you are, by posting one of the codes below. Remember DO NOT REPLY,JUST POST IN YOUR STATUS TO CONFUSE THE GUYS. Then invite all your female friends to join this event

Blueberry: Im single

Pinapple: its complicated

Raspberry: Im a touch and go woman

Apple: Engaged

Cherry: In a relationship

Banana: Im married

Avocado: Im the “other one”

Strawberry: Cant find the right one

Lemon: Wish i was single

Grape: wants to get married.

Passion fruit: Widowed

The bra game reached TV, lets get this one to do the same, and show everyone how powerful women are

“An invite to show I care”… As an admitted care-bear, I have to say, I’m insulted.

The event is filtered as “Private,” so I’ll respect the creator’s choice and just call her Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith, while perhaps well-intentioned, seems to be missing some major points about cancer, not to mention some grammar lessons:

I don’t think we can get any more “aware” of breast cancer in this country than the pink culture riddling the marketing campaign of every PR-savvy corporation.

We need to focus more on awareness of cancer in general, or of types of cancer that are lesser known and preventable. More than 90% of all cancers are caused by environmental factors and are more deadly than breast cancer (i.e., harder to detect and more dangerous at earlier stages), yet few, if any, efforts are made so strongly to save lives.

She didn’t call for readers to do anything, like say… donate money to an organization that’s actually doing progressive research than to those that have failed to produce any new results and have spent more money organizing walks than working in labs.

Getting an artificial, noneffective meme to hit the TV is a) not difficult or special these days,  b) has nothing to do with with preventing cancer or saving lives, c) will show the world how women waste their time feeling good about themselves rather than doing anything considered “powerful,” and d) is perfectly stupid.

I think I’d rather see a viral status message like this:

Cancer awareness starts with you, and I’m not saying that to be cute or coy, or suggest that you start wearing pink 365 days of the year. Most people do not know what cancer really is, how it starts, how it’s prevented, or how treatments like chemotherapy actually work. Most people don’t bother learning these things until they are stricken with cancer themselves. However, you don’t have to be one of those people, and you can change that.

Cancer awareness is important, and the most important thing you can do—the most powerful thing you can do—is educate yourself. Look it up in a proper encyclopedia. Research it. Talk to your doctor. Talk to a cancer patient. Make a real effort to understand this common and often misunderstood disease.

You’ll make yourself far more powerful with knowledge than typing the name of a fruit on your Facebook page.

Links (updated 4/29/11):

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